“It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine…” – R.E.M.
Being a worse-case-scenario junkie, I have often wondered about how the world could end. Will it go down in a nuclear holocaust creating radiation mutants? Or possibly a virus that goes global before a vaccine or cure can be discovered, leaving a only those with a natural immunity alive? Or, my favorite, a zombie plague sweeps the globe? It is pure imagination for me – unlike some reality shows like National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers.
I have often thought about what I would need in order to survive. Do I have the skills and the perseverance to adapt to a new set of rules and pitfalls? Since being diagnosed with multiple chronic illnesses and placed on a regimen of daily and rescue medications, my confidence in being able to survive has drastically diminished. Think about it. Could we survive without our medications? How long would a diabetic last without insulin? How would people with a mental illness last before purposefully or accidentally getting themselves killed? How would people with chronic pain manage to hunt their own food, build their own shelters, or runaway from a swarm of zombies or gang of marauders? Sure, we could muddle through for a short while. We would try our very best to keep up. I can picture it now – pushing myself through the pain until one day I simply collapse with exhaustion and couldn’t take another step even with a pack of cannibals on my trail. After watching the character Lori on The Walking Dead die during childbirth, pregnant women are now on my list of people who won’t survive either.
It can be pretty gosh darn depressing knowing I would be one of the first to die in a post-apocalyptic society. I would be as useless as an iPod without any power. If I was a healthy, virile thirtysomething weeding out the weak links in my group of survivors, I would most likely kill off someone like me. Of course, there are a lot of healthy people out there who would be just as useless as me. I guess that would be the consolation prize…
The most disturbing part of having a chronic illness is find a doctor to oversee my treatments. Having more than one chronic illness simply increases that search exponentially. If you have bipolar, your get sent to a psychiatrist. However, psychiatrists are trained by pharmaceutical reps (and let’s face it – Big Pharm is the real driver of healthcare these days) to throw medications at their patients. They don’t have time for “talk therapy” or cognitive-behavioral therapy. They no longer seem to connect with those professionals who do. Don’t bother asking for a recommendation to a good therapist. The disconnect is an ever-widening chasm that few patients have the stamina to bridge. We are left to randomly calling therapists out of a phone book or, more likely, from the list our insurance companies offer up. We all know how well that works out, right?
If you complain to your family doc about migraines, they send you to a neurologist. But did you know that migraines comprise a small fraction of what most neurologist know? Most docs don’t even know that there are headache clinics out there that only deal with migraines and headaches. What a shock! How is a family doc supposed to manage our care if they don’t even know what specialties exist in the world of medicine? What are they actually learning in medical schools these days?
Now if you are lucky enough to have fibromyalgia (I know you can’t actually hear the sarcasm behind the word “lucky” in print), the knee-jerk response from most family docs is to send you to a rheumatologist. But wait! Did anyone ever ask the rheumatologists out there if they want to treat fibromyalgia? They only got stuck with it based on an outdated, obsolete definition of an illness that research has redefined into central nervous system disorder. WTF!!!
The bottom line is that family docs are poorly trained to refer patients with chronic illnesses. They pass their patients on to others hoping they don’t come back. Specialists, like most docs, are trained to run tests until something comes back positive for a disease. Then they cut something out or medicate the problem away. They want to cure their patients, not have a long-term relationship with them. And who can blame them? Modern medicine works best for those illnesses that can be cured. It is ever so disheartening to see the same patient over and over again without making their problem go away.
Chronic illnesses are the ugly step-child of the medical community. They require a lot of patience from both doctors and patients (no pun intended). Most illnesses that fall into this category are treated like that Whack-a-Mole game we all played as kids. Every time a new symptom pops its ugly head, the doc whacks it away with medications, physical therapy, or even some Eastern approaches that have slowly crept into our Western medicine. Is it any surprise that the patients keep coming back?
In the perfect world, there would be a cure for every illness. But since that utopia is out of reach, the medical profession should be more open to managing our chronic illnesses.